As a teacher I have long recognized that fair is not equal. In a terrible twist of hypocrisy, I formerly explained to my students the following example.
Teacher: “If Jose cuts his finger and I give him a band-aid, and you want one too but have no visible need for one, then would it be fair for me to give you one?”
Teacher: “I will try my best this year to give every child what s/he needs, not what s/he wants.”
Then we would discuss other examples of fair not necessarily meaning equal. And then one day the light bulb exploded in my mind. How could I have been so ignorant? There is little else that I have done as an educator that has caused me more pain than putting a “Caucasian” band-aid on an African-American child. And yet, I used the band-aid example for years not realizing my own stupidity. All of a sudden, I realized that there were no other flesh-colored band-aids to be found where I shopped. My example changed and evolved, but my astonishment about the lack of multicultural band-aids did not.
Today, my classroom has an assortment of other band-aids. I specifically chose to buy ones that did not have popular cartoon characters as to not endorse any subtle messages that those characters proselytized.
When I bring this up to friends or acquaintances there are three reactions.
1.) Wow! I never thought of that. It’s so true that there are no other kinds of flesh-colored band-aids.
2.) Yeah, I have often wondered about that myself.
3.) Don’t you have better things to do than to worry about band-aids?
It is to the third reaction that I write this blog post. No, I don’t have anything better to do. I am committed to advocating for my students. Some day I may decide to adopt children, and if I do, I may be a mother to an African-American child. I most certainly will not put a “Caucasian” band-aid on any child of mine be that child my student, son, or daughter.
The lack of multicultural band-aids in my local supermarket where people of all backgrounds shop gives me serious pause about what kind of message this society is continuing to send our kids. SpongeBob, the Muppets, Disney characters, and the assortment above are all more important than having a decent skin to band-aid matching ratio. This cultural and racial imbalance continues to send messages to our minority children that they are not important enough to warrant a band-aid that closely matches them.
I realize that in the grand scheme of things, band-aids are a small matter compared to numerous other issues that plague our country and planet. I can honor and respect that view.
Is it really about band-aids per say, or the message they symbolize? And what would that message be? We still live in a male-dominated, Caucasian society. This country incarcerates young people of color at alarming rates. The incarceration rate is also divided along lines of class and economics. I have had the unfortunate experience of sitting in many court rooms and watched some of my loved ones of color sent to prison while others were given a slap on the wrist for the exact same crime. How is this justice?
I have also been in the court room when another loved one, also of color, received the slap on the wrist. The difference was the lawyer that was hired; he was the largest campaign contributor of the judge that my loved one stood before. That is also the reason his price was so high.
And sadly, I have taken numerous trips to numerous prisons to see an incarcerated family member. Each time I went to a new prison, the procedures were different. And each time I saw few if any Caucasians. It was some time before I realized that many of the prisons that I visited were not state or federally run, but they were private. A privately run prison system can mean only one thing, profits are the driving force. The prison economy is alive and well.
Band-aids will not fix this problem. I am a supporter of reform, but I am not exactly sure what that looks like. So in the meantime, I will advocate for my students as I continue thinking about them as they enter a cruel world that wants to capitalize on their misfortunes.
It is a small start, but I am trying to make change in my own way.